Stewarding Children’s Grief/Helping Families Heal Together

Today’s post is a reprint of a very timely article by the wonderful Tom Golden that was published in griefHaven’s most recent newsletter. The article touched on some topics that I felt our readers here would benefit from so I reached out to Susan Whitmore at griefHaven to ask permission to reprint the article. Susan got back to me right away with permission as griefHaven’s purpose is to be there for anyone in need. The folks at griefHaven are more than gracious for letting us reprint this great article which we feel will help all who read it. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

tomgoldenThere is tremendous diversity in the way we choose to heal from grief. We each have our own path, and gender is, of course, just one of the many factors involved in the direction that path may take. The question arises, “How can we honor such diversity within a family unit at a time of great loss?” Each person within the family may very well have a different way of healing themselves. Some persons may have a great need to talk, others may need to connect their grief with action, while another might be quietly healing in his or her own private manner. This diversity can often lead to trouble in the family, with barbs being thrown or held in consciousness about some other family member not grieving in the “right” way. This article is meant to get us started in examining some ideas about healing grief within our family.

My son and I were playing a friendly game of catch. As I tossed him the ball, I noticed the mitt he was wearing. It had been my father’s baseball glove which he had used when I was in Little League. I remembered the many times my father had gone to Little League games and coached or hit fly balls us. Sports was not really his forte, but he made sure to be a part of my life. A scientist and researcher with NASA, he was a dedicated father who enjoyed spending time with his three children and involving himself with their separate interests.

Luke, my seven-year-old son, had chosen that particular glove as his own, perhaps because it was old and very flexible and perhaps it was due to it having been his grandfather’s. This glove has given us many opportunities to talk about my father and his recent death. As we toss the ball back and forth, it is a link into my father and his history. Luke and I have had many of these conversations, usually quick and to the point. Luke might make a particularly good catch and then say it was the glove that helped him with such a spectacular play. I the might say, “Yeah, that’s a special glove. I sure do miss Granddaddy.” Luke agrees and points out that he misses his sense of humor; the game goes on. These short interludes serve us both as a way to remember and honor our pain at the loss of my father, and his grandfather. Healing grief is a matter of chipping away at the potent feelings over and over again. Taking small chunks during an activity such as playing catch is certainly a valid form of healing.

fishing“We need to be open with our kids about our grief in a way that helps them to see that we are grieving. When we allow our kids to see our grief, we give them the best teaching we could give: a role model. This can be helpful to both parents and children.”
My daughter Julia (13 years old) has a very different way of approaching her pain. Julia will approach me and request “special time,” meaning we are to sit and talk about something. She says, “I miss Granddaddy,” and proceeds to talk of her feelings of loss. She already has the agenda and will happily orchestrate the conversation. This, too, is a valid form of healing.

A part of the reason for the difference between Julia and Luke is their age. Julia is more developed physically/psychologically and has a more sophisticated understanding of her emotions. But there is also a difference that has to do with gender. Luke loves to do things and maybe talk some while we are actively participating together. I learn more about Luke and his life while we are wrestling than any other time. We will be grunting and groaning as we push at each other’s body, and all of a sudden, he will stop and say something about his day. Just as quickly we are back at it again. This pattern continues with brief flashes of self-disclosure during activities. Julia, however, doesn’t seem to need the activity. She needs the emotional contact and attention. Both ways are healing; both need to be honored. Although I believe this is a gender difference, it could easily go the other way, with my daughter preferring activity and my son more inclined to talk. It is not that boys do it one way and girls another. It is that as parents we are responsible for finding our children’s individual gifts in healing themselves and then helping them use it. Grief is a potent force, and we need to find ways to steward our children’s connection with feelings of loss and their healing.

“Make sure that the name of the person who died is spoken in your household.”

Make sure that the name of the person who died is spoken in your household. If the name is not spoken, it sets up a situation where it seems that the topic of this person is not one that is open for conversation.

Grief is no different than any other process that children learn. As parents, we steward our children’s anger, homework, sexuality, social skills, bathroom behavior, and a long list of many others. We tend to be more active in our assistance with the younger ones and expect more from children as they grow and mature. We make decisions about what the child needs to know at any given time and find ways to teach them the next level when they are ready. Homework might be a good example. Think of a very young child and how you help them with their studies. Usually we tend to be more active in finding an appropriate place for them to work and are also active in our help with their learning. As the child grows older, we expect and teach different things. We do less of the actual work and more teaching skills in how to work. This is stewardship. We give to them what they need at any given time based on our understanding of their individual qualities and their level of development.

Stewarding a child’s grief is the same. We adjust our approach to their pain based on their level of development and our assessment of their needs. But stewarding grief is a tough task for parents who are actively grieving. It is often a time when our “parent” energy to teach, help, and engage our kids is at an all time low. We too are in need of healing. The saving grace, however, is that by stewarding our children’s grief we ourselves heal. Each time I have a burst of a conversation with Luke about my father or each time Julia asks me for “special time,” I get in touch with my grief and loss. By stewarding I am also healing. Sometimes parents want to hide their feelings of grief and loss from their kids. Occasionally this can be appropriate, but usually if the parent holds back it stops the healing for both parent and child. The kids sense that there is something not being said and will pick up that this “holding back” must be the adult way to do things. We need to be open with our kids about our grief in a way that helps them to see that we are grieving. When we allow our kids to see our grief, we give them the best teaching we could give: a role model. This can be helpful to both parents and children. With this said, let’s look at a couple of ideas of ways families can heal together.

Suggestions: How to Steward Your Child’s Grief

EduardoEduardo and Son Bautista – Argentina

ONE: The first idea is to make sure that the name of the person who died is spoken in your household. Speaking the name of the person has a powerful effect. If the name is not spoken, it sets up a situation where it seems that the topic of this person (or pet) is not one that is open for conversation. Saying the name out loud states clearly that the topic is indeed open. Children will respond to this in their own way. Watch carefully how they respond and you will learn their ways of healing.

Speaking the name can manifest in a number of ways. It does not have to be on a rigid schedule or formally spoken. The best ways I have found are to bring up my father’s name in spontaneous situations. For example, as we are having dinner I might mention my father’s love of something related to what we are talking about. This gives a green light for the kids (or the adults) to speak up if they wish, or to remain silent; both are acceptable. Sometimes kids have very introverted ways of healing and can benefit from listening to another’s conversation. We need to honor all ways. Another way of speaking the name is to include the person’s name in the prayers you use, such as requesting special blessings for this person or using a prayer that may have been a favorite of theirs.

TWO: A related idea is to have pictures of the person who died in different places in your home. In my house we have pictures of my father on the refrigerator, stuck to some cabinets, and in some other spots. This has a similar effect as speaking the name. It includes and honors the person who died and gives a similar green light for discussion and healing.

HollowayHolloway Celebration of Life

THREE: Creating family activities in honor of the person who died is a great way to accommodate all of the differences within your family. The activity allows both a place to talk about the loss and an opportunity to connect one’s action with the grief. Let’s say the person who died loved fishing. In this case you might plan a family activity for everyone to go fishing. You make it clear that this trip is in honor of the person who died. On the trip you make sure that the person’s name is spoken and that the participants know the nature of the honoring. If conversations come up about the person, then that is great; if not, that is okay too.

Doing something together as a family in honor of the person who died is healing in itself. What generally happens is that the kids get into it in their own ways. In my family Luke would say that he is going to catch the biggest fish for Granddaddy. In that way he connects the trip and his action (fishing) with his grief for his grandfather. There is healing in this. The activity provides a “ground” in which the entire family can plant the seeds of their grief in their own way. Some family members may talk and cry about the loss, while others may connect their pain and tears with their goal to catch the biggest fish. This same idea is important with regard to holidays and anniversaries. There are many ways to honor the person who died, and you can use your creativity to find an activity that fits your family.

WhitmoresinCanadaWhitmores In Canada With Erika – One of Her Favorite Spots That They Have Visited Since Her Death

FOUR: A traditional form of the activity idea is that of visiting the grave. But often this is impractical due to distance or other reasons. The kids also sometimes think it is “dumb.” A variation on this is to create a place that becomes linked to the person who died. Maybe that person had a favorite spot, or maybe your family has a beautiful spot that everyone enjoys visiting. As a parent you can link that spot with the person who died. You can declare it a spot that the person who died loved (or would have loved), and your family visits there can include the memories of this person. It might be a waterfall, or like a family I know, an amusement park. No words need be spoken as long as the family knows the link has been made. Most times I think you will find that the person becomes a topic of discussion when visiting that place.

Another family I know created a needlework (counted cross-stitch) memorial in honor of a family member who had died. The father laid out the pattern, and the mother and children did the sewing. With the help of the kids, the father made a frame, and the needlework was dedicated to the person who died and put in a place of honor in the family home. It was a family project that used everyone’s energy and involved everyone in the healing process. The examples could go on and on: one family put together a video, another created a sculpture for their yard. The important point is that these families found a project that could be used as a means of honoring the person who died while at the same time giving the family a joint space to honor their grief. By doing things together as a family in honor of the person who died you are creating a healing space for the whole family. As parents we need to find a variety of ways to help ourselves and our family heal our grief and pain.

By doing it together, we not only heal, we come closer as a family unit.

Tom Golden LCSW, is an author, speaker, and psychotherapist and wrote the book Swallowed By a Snake. Tom’s area of specialization is healing from loss and trauma. Tom has been working in the field of death and dying for over thirty years. Tom’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report and also on CNN, CBS Evening News, ESPN and the NFL Channel. He is a member of the newly created Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. Tom presently lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland with his wife of thirty years. He delights in both his daughter and his son.

GriefHaven was founded by Susan Whitmore after the death of her daughter Erika Whitmore Godwin. The Erika Whitmore Godwin Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, has five primary goals: (1) to provide hope and support to any parent who loses a child; (2) to support siblings, family members, and friends impacted by the death of a child; (3) to educate the public about the loss of a child, letting them know how they can support parents in rebuilding their lives; (4) to educate and collaborate with professionals who deal with the death of a child; and, (5) to provide ways for parents to honor their child. The foundation and griefHaven is dedicated to maintaining a positive and nurturing work environment. In this way, our process aligns with what we deliver — hope, compassion, and love.

Photos courtesy of griefHaven.

The Shock of Grief and What We Can Do About It

It is true that no two people grieve alike. It is also true that many people go through the same emotions, or stages, with regard to grief. It’s no wonder that grief can be complicated and difficult to deal with. Today, Chaplain Gary Roe talks about some things we can do to help alleviate the shock of grief. His words reminded me that children and teens may process grief differently than adults and an unexpected death can be more difficult to deal with and understand than a death from a long illness. Gary’s words give hope to the bereaved that they can process their grief and come to terms with it. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.  

1198063_85215095Jeff was a good friend. He sat in front of me in seventh grade English. He was quiet, respectful, and smart. He was easy to be with.

The day after Christmas break, Jeff was absent. He wasn’t there the next day either. The third day, the principal came in, looking somber.

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” she said. “Jeff got very sick with spinal meningitis during Christmas. He didn’t make it.”

I stared at her in shock. I dropped my eyes and gazed at the empty desk in front of me. “He didn’t make it,” echoed over and over in my mind.

The rest of the day was a blur. I kept thinking, “This can’t be real.”

It was real, all right. It just wasn’t real for me yet.

Loss hits us that way. We can’t digest it. It feels surreal, as if life suddenly stopped and abruptly changed direction. It’s like a dream, or a nightmare. We wonder when we’re going to wake up.

For several weeks, I dreaded going to English class. I would ease into my seat, hyper-aware of the empty desk in front of me. I had trouble concentrating. I didn’t know it, but I was still in shock.

Shock is a part of healthy grief, and it can last a while. It can come and go over a period of months, triggered by certain memories or situations.

616689_60315228We feel for our loved one next to us in the bed. We expect to hear them in the kitchen. We find ourselves looking for them, wondering where they are. Their fragrance lingers here and there. Our houses, and our lives, seem unnaturally quiet.

We long to hear their voice. We miss their touch. We hunger to look into their eyes. We miss everything.
Our lives have been altered forever. How could we not be in shock?

What can we do? How do we get out of this daze?

1. Don’t be in a hurry. Your grief, and the shock of it, honors the one you’ve lost. It proclaims how important they are to you. You’re never going to get over them (you’re not supposed to), but you will get through this time.
2. Be nice to yourself and patient with yourself. This time is unlike any other. Things aren’t normal and routine, so don’t expect yourself to be either.
3. Do what’s best for you, and let the world keep spinning. When my father died (I was fifteen), I got very angry that the world dared to go about its business as if nothing had happened. Right now, it’s almost as if someone pushed the pause button on your life. That’s okay. Do what’s best for you, and try not to worry about the circus around you.

So when your loss is triggered by that fragrance, song, or special place, take a deep breath. The shock you feel is real, and normal. Let it come, and let it pass on through. Then ask yourself, “What do I need most right now?”

Chaplain Gary Roe has experienced a number of losses over the years and currently works as a writer, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. He is the author of Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One and Surviving the Holidays Without You. His necxt book, Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse, is due out in February and documents the struggles and challenges of widows and widowers. The book is drawn from dozens of comments from those who have lost a spouse. Gary also writes inspirational articles based on the stories of hospice patients for several newspapers. Visit him at

Photos courtesy, Rosika.

Giving Yourself a Basic Education About Funeral Planning Now

Judith Johnson regularly blogs on her own website and on Huffington Post. She graciously permits us to reprint her Huffington Post blogs regarding death and bereavement. Like the other guest bloggers we have on this blog, Judith’s posts are aimed at helping people work through their grief. One of the many things that can help you is if your loved one pre-planned their funeral. In this post, Judith talks about the benefits of planning in advance. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

slants2If you had to plan a funeral for a loved one tomorrow, would you know what to do and what not to do? Most of us are woefully unprepared when faced with this task and must do so while grieving the loss of someone for whom we care deeply. So, consider investing a mere half hour of your time now so when the time comes, you can rise to the occasion with your wits about you.

If you are lucky, when called upon to actually plan a funeral or memorial, the deceased will have already pre-planned the funeral and all you will have to do is contact the funeral home and they will take it from there. Unfortunately, only about 25 percent of funerals are pre-planned according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). So, in the vast majority of cases, you are on your own to figure out how to honor the deceased.

No matter what kind of ritual or ceremony you deem appropriate, in most states you will be required to retain the services of a funeral director at the very least to transport the body from the place of death to whatever comes next. Laws differ from state to state, so it’s important to know the laws involved. Matters can be further complicated if the deceased needs to be moved from one state to another.

IMG_3755In the old model of funeral planning, we would appear on the doorstep of the funeral home in our grief and rely on the funeral director to guide us through our decision-making. That’s a pretty vulnerable situation to be in making such tender-hearted and financially significant decisions. Under such circumstances, it is not uncommon to overspend in an effort to prove the depth of our love for the deceased. Not knowing what decisions need to be made, we are likely to think we ought not forego anything that “most people do” whether it suits our needs and pocketbook or not.

Planning can get very complicated, very stressful, and very expensive, very fast. Funerals are an expensive proposition. The NFDA estimates the average cost of a funeral in the US, including a burial vault, to be $8,343. So, it pays to be a well-informed consumer before you start contacting funeral directors.

Here are a few free online resources that are well worth a visit before actually making plans with a funeral director.
Offers complimentary funeral planning tools and advice to help us be more savvy consumers of funeral-related products. Here are some of the highlights of what they offer:

  • They are in the process of rolling out a directory of all the funeral homes in the US and Canada. To date, information is online for 17 states and is projected to include all US states by year-end. Simply enter your zip code, city/state, or add personal preferences such as religion or services offered and the site will tell you what funeral homes meet your needs and display reviews left from prior customers. Not all listings are comprehensive yet, but those that are include license status, ownership (corporate vs. independent), religious/cultural offerings, a list of services offered, the funeral director’s name, and professional associations. Eventually, this site will also include Canadian funeral providers, pricing, and other funeral vendors that can assist with other aspects of end-of-life planning. This is an invaluable resource for comparing the offerings of potential funeral homes side by side.
  • A comprehensive and downloadable funeral planning checklist guides you through the information and decisions you will need to address before, during, and after the funeral. This includes a copy of the Funeral Rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which details our rights as consumers of funeral products and services.
  • A casket guide that details the various options and price ranges of caskets.
  • A description of key consumer advocacy groups.
  • Contact information for state funeral planning boards that regulate the licensure and practice of funeral directors and embalmers.
  • Funeral planning tips and educational articles.
While the name does not imply it, this site offers comprehensive resources for end-of-life planning such as legalities (including wills, trusts, and advance healthcare directives); caregiving, hospice and palliative care services; facing dementia and terminal illnesses; and grieving as well as funeral planning resources. In terms of funeral planning, the site offers:

  • A detailed funeral arrangements guide
  • A funeral planning tool that allows you to comparison shop different funeral homes, browse reviews, and manage your planning budget.
  • An archive of articles and videos on the various topics covered by the site.
  • Advise and tips on such topics as estate planning, saving money on funeral expenses,
  • helping a loved one through sickness, or broaching the subject of end-of-life care with elderly parents. Claims to offer you everything you need to know about funerals and planning, including:

  • A step-by-step online funeral planning guide detailing who to call when the death occurs; arranging for transporting the deceased; planning the funeral and cremation or burial; and post-funeral matters.
  • An explanation of funeral customs by ethnicity, culture, and religion.
  • A description of funeral etiquette for various circumstances and situations.
  • Guidance for dealing with grief.
  • A search tool to find funeral homes and cemeteries by geographic location to comparison shop
  • A guide to pet loss
  • A store that offers sympathy bouquets, memorial items, books, and music.

When researching online resources for funeral planning pay close attention to the vested interest of the site. For example, while the above are fundamentally educational sites, others are sponsored by online retailers or individual funeral homes. So, always consider the source.

I encourage you to take the time now to research these and other websites so you are prepared someday when you least expect to need them. This brief education will go a long way to prepare you to step up when called upon to actually plan a funeral or memorial to honor one of your loved ones.

Reverend Judith Johnson, Ph.D.Judith is a author and interfaith minister. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and doctorates in social psychology and spiritual science. To learn more about Judith, visit her website,

7 Grief Strategies For the New Year – Or For Anytime

Those of us who work at Fairhaven are no stranger to Brad Stetson’s words. He officiates at numerous funerals here. However, there is a difference between hearing someone speak and reading their words. With the advent of audiobooks, more and more people are finding this to be true. Oddly, I don’t find this to be the case with Brad. His words move me whether in person or in print. Today’s blog post is full of helpful words and ideas to take into the new year and they’re certainly worth giving some attention to this New Year’s Eve Day. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator

1188227_24454372The old saying is true: “If there is an elephant in the room, introduce him.”   No good purpose is served by denial, yet we are very good at it.   And when it comes to facing the pain of our grief with both eyes open, we often turn away instead.   But when we have a psychological elephant in the room of our mind, we should acknowledge him, and plan a way to shrink him down to a manageable size then get him on his way.   If we’ve had a loss recently, the new year provides a good opportunity for us to be honest about the pain of our grief, and resolve in the months to come to be proactive and do the necessary griefwork to begin addressing the elephant in the room.

1. Write yourself a comforting and encouraging letter

Imagine you had a friend who you cared deeply for, and imagine that friend had just experienced the death of someone they love very much.   You would want to help them, you’d want to comfort then and encourage them.   Well, now substitute yourself for that friend. You are worthy of being comforted and encouraged too, so write yourself a letter saying to yourself the same sorts of things you would say to a good friend.   Then, read the letter aloud to yourself once or twice, put it away for a few days or a week, then read it again.   Do this for a few months, then write yourself a second letter, and so on.   This is an act of self-compassion, treating yourself as gently as you would treat someone else.   Avoid thinking that you are so ‘strong’ or ‘solid’ that you don’t need help and tender compassion.   That is a misunderstanding of strength and personal fortitude.   Feeling intense sorrow and bereavement is not a sign of weakness, to the contrary, it is a sign of deep humanity and personal capacity to love.

2. Buy a big calendar, and use it

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the main problems bereaved people face is the feeling that one day drags into the next, always the same.   Grieving people also sometimes get pressured by other well-meaning people into doing activities they really don’t want to do. An ‘appointment calendar’ can solve both of those problems.

Large calendars, like a desk calendar, give you room to write. So as the new year begins, grab your pen, sit down with the calendar, and start filling your days with appointments.   Appointments with whom? Well, most importantly, with yourself.   Without isolating yourself or taking yourself out of social circulation, you can pen in some ‘self-time’ and thereby reserve a lot of valuable quiet time.   Now this quiet time does not have to be momentous. Just by reserving time for yourself, you will give yourself time to breathe and reflect as the new year, with all of its demands and changes, unfolds.   Appointments like “movie with me,” or “reading with me,” “journaling with me” or “recreation with me” make it possible for you to always be able to tell others, when asked to go somewhere or do something, “Let me check my calendar, I may have an appointment.”   This way you can say “No” in a socially graceful way, and if you want to accept someone’s invitation, you can always break an appointment with yourself, no one will be upset about that.

697402_549700033. Move your body, move your mind

As you slowly adjust to your life without the physical presence of your loved one who died, it’s vital you get outside and move your body.   Notice, I didn’t say “exercise,” since for some people that may sound daunting (What do I wear? What gym do I join? What are the elements of my workout?). No need to make it a big undertaking, you’re not training for the Olympics.   So pick short, achieve-able goals, like a very short hike, a walk around the block, a bike ride to the park, etc.   Keep these jaunts short, as this will give you a sense of accomplishment, and you will derive the physical and psychological benefits of having enlisted your body in your ongoing encounter with grief. This is a great habit to form in the new year.

4. Realize that you do not need to “understand” your grief, or fit your loss into your religious or philosophical worldview right now.

When I coached Little League, I established the One Minute Rule.   It was this:   If I, or any player, gets hit by a batted or thrown baseball, whatever the person hit by the ball says for the first minute after being hit, is OK.   Screaming and accusations were common after being hit by the baseball, but everyone knew that you got a free pass for a minute.   And they knew that after a minute the hit person had to be ready to move on.   Well, bereaved people get a lot longer than a minute, or a month, or a year, to integrate their experience into the rest of their outlook on life.   So don’t feel any anxiety about fully grasping what has happened to you.   Time will help clear your mind, and you will eventually be able to cognitively address your loss, the pain it has brought you, and the changes in your life that have ensued.

5. Decide that in the new year, you will, in some new way, begin to focus a bit more on others, as a part of your loved one’s legacy.

This is a valuable change you can make in your life.   We all need to get out of our skin for a while, we need to get out of ourselves and just focus on other people, and their problems. Sometimes this helps us gain a fresh perspective on our own life.   So plan on doing that this new year, and as you do it, you will no doubt talk with new people, and when the opportunity presents itself tell them about your loved one who has died.   You don’t have to tell your loved one’s life story or anything like that, just mention them in passing, or say “My wife used to like to do this (activity).”   You may feel a bit more comfortable talking about your loved one with people who didn’t know him or her, and it is very valuable to begin to talk out loud—in the past tense—about your loved one.   It may be shocking for you to hear yourself speak out loud in the past tense about someone so close to you, but it will help you integrate their death into your life.   Where do you go to be around other people? Start with local civic groups, like the Boys and Girls Club, the Historical Society, the Kiwanis or Elks, the Library, Big Brothers and Sisters, a Habitat for Humanity project or a Rescue Mission.

6. Listen to the Music

40789_7196A recent study I saw asserted that sad people who listen to their favorite music that matches their mood, report feeling better.   Music is therapeutic and soothing.   Throughout human religious and cultural history, music has been central to the expression of human values and sentiments.   Sit down with a pen and paper, and make a short list of some songs of different types that you have always liked.   Then go to and search for them and listen to them, or go to the library and listen to them, or order them online (if you are not accustomed to doing that on a computer, ask a friend to do it for you).   Just get the music playing so you can listen to it.   And as you do, let your mind take you where it will—daydream—and after a while I’ll bet you’ll feel relaxed and even renewed.

When I was a teenager I spent four hours every Saturday morning, from 8:30 a. m. to 12:30 p. m., helping Mr. Leffingwell clean his expansive yard.   There were what seemed like hundreds of plants and bushes, in addition to several lawns he wanted pristine.   It was a big undertaking, as he was a very particular man.   I remember that his wife died one year.   He took one Saturday off from yardwork, and he was right back at it the next week—and I was with him.   The first Saturday back, he opened up the sliding door to his backyard where we were working, and he turned up his stereo. He was playing a record by John Denver, and on it was the tribute ballad “Annie’s Song.”   When that song came on, he stopped trimming bushes, and just stood there, looking at his pool, and staring around the green yard.   As John Denver sang “You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest….” Mr. Leffingwell stood still.   When the song was over, he went back to work, and I remember he worked hard, with vigor, until I left at 12:30 p. m.   That soulful song seemed like a tonic to him, it seemed to soothe his aching heart.   Find the songs that are meaningful to you, and let them speak to you.

7. Wishing you well

As the new year begins, write down what your loved one would want for you in the new year.   Trouble imagining what that might be? It’s probably the same as what you would wish for your loved one, had you been the one that died. So sit down at the computer, or put pen to paper, and make a list of five or seven or ten states of mind or attitudes or commodities that your loved one would want for you to attain as you move forward without them physically with you. For example, my mother would want me to look toward the future, and not be paralyzed by mourning. Or, my father would want me to be optimistic about what will happen to me this year, or my sister would want me to buy those expensive boots we used to talk about.   And then, armed with your list, choose one of those dispositions or possessions and pursue it.   Look back at your list after a few months, and check off the outlook or object you now have.   Deliberately choose to achieve something your loved one would want you to have in this new year.   By doing so, you will honor their memory.

So often, we think of grief or bereavement as something that happens to us, instead of something we do.   This is unfortunate, since passivity and inaction will not help us to engage the new reality of loss in our lives.   This is not to say that grief is a “problem” we can solve, or a “condition” we can hurry up and make go away, but it is to say that we can be active participants and even helpful agents in our own emotional well-being.   By deliberately and purposefully facing our sorrow, and calmly, carefully thinking about what we can do to help integrate our sorrow into our larger life, we can contribute to forging our new identity.   And this is a powerful choice to make as a new year and our new lives dawn.

Brad Stetson is an author and funeral chaplain in Southern California. He holds a Ph. D. in Religion and Social Ethics from USC, and he has taught in the Religious Studies Department at Cal State Long Beach since 1995. For more information about his book and his work, visit

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A Holiday Healing Secret

1434499_91820686It’s Christmas Eve and not everyone might be looking forward to the next day with eager anticipation. For those of us who have suffered a loss, Christmas may seem quite bleak, fraught with memories of what we no longer have. Chaplain Gary Roe comes to us with words to soothe our pain and ideas on how to make it through one of the most emotional times of the year for the bereaved. You can take his kind and practical words to heart and let them warm you like hot cocoa on a frosty Christmas Eve. Hopefully, they can help make your holiday a bit brighter. Merry Christmas. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

How can you celebrate when your heart is broken?

This is my final article on Holiday Grief. Here’s what we talked previously:

  • Holiday Grief #1: Happy Holidays? Not for Everyone. This time of year is hard enough, but grief can make it nearly impossible. How do we handle this?
  • Holiday Grief #2: Why Holidays are Hard and What You Can Do about It. Unrealistic expectations can complicate our grief. By proactively choosing what we do, when, how, and with whom, we can grieve better and honor our loved one more.
  • Holiday Grief #3: Do the Holidays WITH your loved one (not WITHOUT them). We can include our loved one in our holidays by meeting grief head on and planning specific ways to honor them.

I have one more thing I would like to share with you that could make a huge impact in your holiday experience. I call it the Holiday Healing Secret.

Actually, it’s not a secret. In fact, it’s so simple you might even roll your eyes.

Here it is…

Use your grief to give thanks.

Use your grief. With a little effort, you can turn it into thanksgiving. And gratitude does wonders for a broken heart.

Here’s a few things you can do to stoke the fires of thanksgiving rather than letting grief set the agenda:

  • Plan a specific time of thanksgiving focused on your loved one. Have everyone share three things they’re thankful for.
  • Have a balloon release. Write messages of thanksgiving on balloons and then release them together.
  • Write short messages of thanksgiving, put them in a box, wrap them, and place them under the tree. Open it with the other gifts and read through them together.

Be creative. Focus on thanksgiving. Plan it. Your heart will be glad you did.

Don’t be afraid to meet your grief head on. Use it for good and it can help you heal. Practicing thanksgiving can be very powerful.

Yes, this hurts. No, there is no magic pill for the holidays. You will never get over your loved one (you’re not supposed to), but you will get through this time.

Your life has changed forever. These holidays might be difficult, but they can still be good.

P.S. If you would like more help in the grieving process, consider checking out my free Good Grief Mini-Course at

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